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Leibniz on the Censorship of the Copernican System


Source: Studia Leibnitiana, Bd. 20, H. 1 (1988), pp. 19-42
Published by: Franz Steiner Verlag
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Leibniz on the Censorship of the Copernican System*



Diesen Ausfhrungen liegt eine Auswahl von Leibniz* Briefen und Aufstzen zugrunde, die
sein Interesse an der Aufhebung der Zensur des kopernikanischen Systems bekunden. Die hier
gesammelten Dokumente stammen aus den Jahren 1684 bis 1705 und enthalten Auszge aus der
Korrespondenz mit dem Landgrafen Ernst von Hessen-Rheinfels sowie Briefe und Memoranda
von der italienischen Reise und Passagen aus dem Specimen Dynamicum und den Nouveaux
Esseais. Im besonderen wird gezeigt, da der von Louis Couturat als Vorrede zum Phoranomus
herausgegebene Aufsatz als ein vom Phoranomus unabhngiges Werk betrachtet werden mu.
Ferner wird ein neuer Korrespondent von Leibniz als der italienische Jesuit Antonio Baldigiani
identifiziert. Sodann wird die sogenannte Zweite Bearbeitung" vom Tentamen de Motuum
Coelestium Causis datiert und es wird dargelegt, da dieser Aufsatz im Rahmen der Auseinander-
setzung Leibnizens mit der Zensur zu verstehen ist.

This paper is a survey of one aspect of Leibniz's diplomatic and scientific activities,
namely, his attempts to have the ban on the Copernican system abolished. The ban was
issued by the Congregation of the Index (instituted by Pius V in 1571) in 1616, more
than seventy years after the publication of Copernicus' De revolutionibus orbium
coelestium; thus, the censorship was imposed by a congregation of cardinals, and the
Copernican system was not formally declared heretical by the Pope. In 1620 the ban on
the book was lifted, provided a few passages were crossed out, and the whole work
appeared as an astronomical hypothesis. But it was only in 1757 that Benedict XIV
rescinded the anticopernican decree. Galilei's Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del
mondo, however, was removed from the index of prohibited books only in 1835.
In the texts which I have collected the reader will recognize typical elements of the
debates of the XVIIth century; thus, from Leibniz's point of view, there emerges not
only the history of his attempts, but also a reconstruction of those debates. I claim that
there are two reasons why Leibniz is placed to give us a picture, however fragmentary
this may be, of the relationships between science and religion in respect of censorship in
his time: first, because of his scientific and diplomatic activities, he had several contacts
with people of both the philosophic and religious communities, and during his journey
in search of documents relating to the history of the House of Hanover, he spent
several months in Italy, mostly in Rome. The second reason is that, although Leibniz
was a Lutheran, he can by no means be charged with anticatholicism, so that his
critiques appear particularly significant, coming from a fairly independent and not a
priori hostile source.
In this paper I focus my attention on a selection of documents which range between
the years 1684 and 1705, and include excerpts from Leibniz's correspondence as well as

* I wish to thank the Niederschsische Landesbibliothek for allowing me to study Leibniz's

manuscripts. I am most grateful to Herbert Breger, Albert Heinekamp, Heinz-Jrgen He und
Gerda Utermhlen for their help and advice during my stay at the Leibniz-Archiv, Hannover.

Studia Leibnitiana, Band XX/1 (1988)

Franz Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden GmbH, Sitz Stuttgart

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20 Domenico Bertoloni Meli

from his works1. It is interesting that in all

for granted the received opinion of the
astronomical details; as we shall see, the argum
hypotheses, relativity of motion and the inte
themes in the first two sections. Section 1 is
Landgrave Ernst of Hessen-Rheinfels, section
system. This memorandum has been identified
Phoranomus; I claim that this identification
works were probably written during the Itali
In section 3 I deal with an essay and accom
priest in Italy to undertake the abolition of th
written opinion to Leibniz on the content of
arguments for the identification of the addr
Indeed, it was this problem which gave rise to
The content of section 4 is neither relat
anticopernican decree, nor to his ideas on it; t
two versions of the Tentamen de motuum coele
the revised version in order to avoid censorship
a second publication of his essay on the c
acceptable to the Catholic Church. According t
passage from the revised version of the Tentam
rather different light.
The last section contains a commentary o
dynamicum and Noveaux essais; part of their in
excerpts from a private correspondence, but
posthumous, were written with the intent of p
the results from the previous sections, provi
influence of the anticopernican decree and of
science in Italy.
Part of the enjoyment I had while collecting m
the fact that, although I have been working on
close to grasping his psychology as in the foll
will be amused to see his rhetorical devices, c
stretched his philosophy according to the aim

1 . The correspondence with Ernst of H

Landgrave Ernst's interests were mainly
correspondence with Leibniz the problem of th
discussed, together with political issues. Ernst
under Gustav Adolf in the Thirty Years' Wa

1 Leibniz's interest in the astronomical systems da

already dealt with them in the Hypothesis physica no
correspondence with Henry Oldenburg in 1671
immobilitatis terrae. La Fleche, 1645, in: Leibniz: S
Leipzig, Berlin, 1923ff., (abbreviated A), second ser

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Leibniz on the Censorship of the Copernican System 21

1652; his zealous proselytizing to his new faith made him try to convert Leibniz several
times, not without remarks which cast some doubts on the kind of reunion of the
churches he wished:

"Oh mon cher Mons. Leibnitz ne perdez pas ainsi le temps de grace et hodie si vocem
Domini audieritis nolite obdurare corda vestra. Christ et Belial ne conviennent
ensemble, non plus les Catholiques et les Protestants et je ne me saurois rien promettre de vo
salut si vous ne vous faictes Catholique"2.

The theme of censorship of the Copernican system recurs a few times in the
correspondence; Leibniz's point of view is that although the church is infallibl
concerning matters of faith, it wrongly compels its members to believe some err
concerning other matters, among which is the immobility of the earth, because "
opinion does not depend on the Empire of will, and cannot be changed at pleasure"3.
Leibniz's opinion, it is also impossible to dissimulate certain ideas in order to av
censorship, because those opinions are extremely important in natural philosophy
claims that he has made notable discoveries in this field, and that the advance of hum
knowledge is a fundamental point which has to be put in the first place: this is on
the most typical features of Leibniz's thought, which will emerge again and again in
rest of this paper4.
Landgrave Ernst warns Leibniz: the mysteries of trinity, consubstantiation, euc
rist and resurrection pertain to the tradition and authority of the church rather tha
human understanding5. But in a second attack Leibniz states that an astronomer w
believes that the Copernican system is incomparably more probable than all others, a
who is morally convinced of its truth, would still have to reject it6. As a conseque
Landgrave Ernst adopts a defensive position, and admits that although he hopes to be
good Catholic, he holds certain opinions contrary to those of the inquisition7.
The most interesting comments are contained in the postscript of a letter written
Summer 1688 from Vienna, a few months before Leibniz reached Rome:

"When Your Most Serene Highness writes to Rome, it would be appropriate to have the m
Eminent Cardinals sounded out as to whether they would be in the mood for lifting the censors
par interim issued in the past against the opinion of Copernicus on the earth's motion. For
this hypothesis is confirmed by so many arguments drawn from the new discoveries, that
greatest Astronomers have scarcely any doubt left about it. Some very able Jesuits (like Fat
Dechales) have publicly admitted that it will be extremely difficult ever to find another hypoth
to account for everything so easily, so naturally and so perfectly; and it is quite obvious
nothing prevents him from openly exposing it, save censorship. The Minim Father Mersenne a
the Jesuit Father Honor Fabri acknowledged, and taught in their writings, that the ban

2 A I, 4, p. 444, 1 1 IX 1687. For information on Landgrave Ernst and his contacts with Leibn
see G. J. Jordan: The Reunion of the Churches, a Study ofG. W. Leibniz and his Great Attem
London 1927, ch 5.
3 A I, 4. d. 320. 1/11 I 1684.
4 Ib., pp. 320-321; Leibniz makes also the distinction between interior and exterior
communion of the Catholic Church (see G. J. Jordan, op. cit. eh. 5), and adds that if he had been
born into the Catholic Church, he would have remained a Catholic unless he had been excluded
because of his philosophical opinions.
5 A I, 4, p. 323, 5/15 II 1684.
6 Ib., p. 336, 10/20 X 1684.
7 Ib., p. 337, 1/11 XI 1684. For Leibniz's religious views see G. J. Jordan, op. cit.

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22 Domenico Bertoloni Meli

merely provisional, pending further clarification, and

in these terms in order to obviate the sense of scand
Galilei, seemed to provoke in weaker souls. People
man of good sense easily acknowledges that even
thousand times true, Holy Scripture would in no w

Claude Dechales is the author of the ponderou

Cursus seu mundus mathematicus (Ludguni 1674
on astronomy which contains a lengthy disc
Leibniz remembered very well the passage o
word by word; indeed, Dechales says that the
system is censorship, in that it contradicts Sc
problem on several occasions, and planned to w
probably refers to the Harmonie Universelle
that further inquiries were needed in order
expressed his views in the Annotatio in syste
1661), published under the pseudonym of th
According to various sources12, Fabri, who also
the earth on other occasions13, was imprison
were too sympathetic towards the Copernican
ment was due to the publication of the Apolo
(Ludguni 1670) without permission, because
(Col. Agripp. 1672) are his only books which
Concerning the three astronomical theories b
term "hypothesis" was the standard one. Ne
meaning in Leibniz's epistemological vocabula
of continuity for example, which is a moral
choice for the best, a hypothesis is not necessar
according to its simplicity, its success in expla
especially in foreseeing new ones15. In order to

8 A I, 5, pp. 185-186, 29 VI/9 VII 1688. Leibniz arr

his journey see K. Mller-G. Krnert: Leben und
Frankfurt a/M 1969.
9 See pp. 285-300. For a general survey of the re
world-system see C. J. Schofield: Tychonic and semi-

10 See p. 76. An account of Mersenne's ideas on the Copernican system is in the Dictionary o
Scientific Biographies (abbreviated DSB) and W. L. Hine, Mersenne and Copernicanism, ISIS 64
1973, p. 18-32.
11 The full title is Eustachius de Divinis Septempedanus (= San Severino Marche) pro sua
annotatione in systema saturnium Christiani Eugeni adversus ejusdem assertionem. See p. 49.
12 DSB; L. Thorndike. A History of Magic and Experimental Sciences, 8 vols., New York,
1923-1958; vol. VII, p. 667; p. 664-670 are on Fabri. A contrary view is in J. L. Heilbron:
Electricity in the 17th and 18th Centuries, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1979, p. 114.
13 H. Fabri: Dialogi physici in quibus de motu terrae disputatur, Ludguni, 1665.
14 F. H. Reusch: Der Index der verbotenen Bcher, 2 vol., Bonn, 1885; vol. 1, p. 504.
15 A II, 1, p. 399, Leibniz to Hermann Conring, 19/29 III 1678.

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Leibniz on the Censorship of the Copernican System 23

comparison with the art of deciphering a cryptograph, an analogy which had also been
used by Descartes16.
In An introduction on the value and method of natural science Leibniz states that laws
can be known because "our mind is endowed with the concept of perfection, and we
know that God works in the most perfect way". If a hypothesis can explain very many
phenomena, however, then it can also attain the status of moral certainty. In the same
essay Leibniz clearly indicates the Ptolemaic hypothesis to be false because it conflicts
with phenomena17. With regard to the Copernican and Tychonic hypotheses, although
in the Hypothesis physica nova (Moguntiae 1671) he attempted to prove their
equivalence on the basis of relativity of motion, he thought that the Copernican one
was by far the most successful; sometimes he seems to suggest that its advantages are so
great that it could almost attain the status of a law, that is, moral certainty, at other
times he states that the motion of the earth will never be proved18. We go back to
Leibniz's letter:

"If Joshua had been a disciple of Aristarchus or Copernicus, he would not have changed the way
he expressed himself, otherwise he would have shocked the people present as well as common
sense. All Copernicans, in their ordinary speech and even among themselves, when the issue is not
scientific, will always say that the sun has risen or set, and will never say the same of the earth.
These terms pertain to phenomena, not to their causes"19.

In this passage Leibniz seems to favour an interpretation of Scripture which has been
defined as "accomodation"; namely, according to R. Hooykaas20, when Scripture
"speaks about purely Natural* things, it accomodates itself to the conceptions (naive or
traditional) of the common people". According to Leibniz this distinction applies not
only to Scripture, but also to language in general: it is one thing to talk about
phenomena (which in this context means "that which appears to our senses"), it is
another thing to talk about causes. At this point Leibniz goes on with a remark which is
typical of his attempts, although his tone varies according to whom he is addressing, as
we shall see:

"It is important for the Catholic Church that philosophers be left the liberty of reason which
belongs to them. And one cannot imagine how much the censorship against Copernicus is
damaging. For the most learned men of England, Holland and the whole North (not to mention
France), being virtually convinced of the truth of this hypothesis, consider this censorship as
unjust enslavement, and seeing moreover that the foremost Mathematicians among the Catholics,
and even among the Jesuits, are well acquainted with the incomparable advantages of this doctrine,
but nevertheless are still obliged to reject it, they know not what to say, and are tempted to suspect
them of little sincerity; and this gives them a bad impression of the Catholic Church"21.

16 R. Descartes: Prinapia philosophiae, Amstelodami 1644, section IV, paragraph 205.

17 Leibniz: Elementa pbysicae, published only in English translation by L. E. Loemker in:
Leibniz: Philosophical Papers and Letters, Dordrecht, Boston, New York, 19692, pp. 276-90; pp.

18 In A II, 1, p. 172, Leibniz to Arnauld, XI 1671, Leibniz claims that he can prove the
Copernican hypothesis. See also the Nouveaux Essais. A VI, 6, p. 484.
19 A I, 5, p. 186.
20 R. Hooykaas: G. ]. Rheticus' Treatise on Holy Scripture and the Motion of the Earth,
Amsterdam, 1984, p. 33f . ; H. W. Frei: The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative, New Haven and
London, 1974.
21 A I, 5, p. 186.

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24 Domenico Bertoloni Meli

Thus, if we have to believe what Leibniz

Copernicus problematic for natural philosopher
of the Catholic Church itself22. It is also worth
Leibniz defends liberty of reason. He also clai
abuse of the authority of Scripture and of the
a literal interpretation of Scripture, until oth
proved; his arguments were often used both
Leibniz was also interested in finding a suitab
decree by means of a compromise which could
image of the Congregation of the Index and
"One means of finding a remedy would be for R
maintain that the hypothesis of Copernicus is tru
Scripture could not have spoken more appropriatel
did, and did not stray from the proper use of word
mitigate its former censorship, as the result of surp
enough, this would not damage its authority, let
Holiness did not intervene in this matter. There is no
own judgements, and since some Church Fathers hav
the Antipodes, I cannot see why one should be so s

Also these remarks were far from original:

dedicatory letter to Paulus III in Copernicus' D
Cristina di Lorena24 and by Descartes in a lett
In the passage above Leibniz mentions the an
this problem, about which there is also some co
the word. The first one is merely a geographi
earth; the second meaning concerns the exis
descend from Adam and which inhabits the oth
a connection between the two meanings, th
sphericity of the earth had been condemned by
not formally forbidden, and the Venerable B
existence of a non-Adamitic race, on the o
universality of the human kind and of redempt
the antipodes was expressed by a certain Virg
opinion was condemned by Pope Zacharia
condemnation, however, probably referred t
rather than to the sphericity of the earth, to
Leibniz referred.

22 On the Jesuits' attitude towards natural philos

23 A I, 5, p. 186.
24 Galileo Galilei: Opere, Firenze, 1890- 1909, 20
25 M. Mersenne: Correspondance, Paris, 1945-197
26 De civ. Dei, XVII 9, Confess., I, 16, 9.
27 Div. Instit., I, 3, 23f.
28 De rerum natura, eh. 46.

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Leibniz on the Censorship of the Copernican System 25

2. The pseudo-preface to the Phoranomus

This memorandum, which has been published by Louis Couturat29, has been
identified as the preface to the Phoranomus , seu de potentia et legibus naturae (1689), an
essay composed of two dialogues written by Leibniz in Rome on occasion of his
becoming a member of Giovanni Giusto Ciampini's Accademia fisico-matematica.
Indeed, the relevant manuscripts are of the same kind of Italian paper and in the same
file, together with some fragments which are not directly related to either of the
writings30. In the manuscript of the essay published by Couturat, however, there is
neither the title, nor the word "preface", as appears from his edition, so that the
memorandum might well have been written independently from the Phoranomus. This
suspicion is corroborated by the fact that in the so-called preface, which relates to the
Copernican system, there is no reference to the Phoranomus, which mainly deals with
the laws of statics and dynamics. Furthermore, whereas in the memorandum Leibniz
uses relativity of motion to defend the Copernican system against censorship, in the
Phoranomus he makes an interesting remark on absolute motion which would have
been inappropriate for the so-called preface. Nevertheless, although I do not agree with
Couturat's identification, the kind of paper and the content of the memorandum on the
Copernican system strongly indicate that it was written in Italy, most probably in
Rome or soon afterwards, thus at the same time as the Phoranomus.
I begin my discussion with the quotation from the Phoranomus on absolute motion
mentioned above:

"Moreover, a serious doubt on the nature of motion arose in me. In fact, as at one time I had
conceived space like real immovable place, possessing only extension, I could define absolute
motion by the change of this real space. But little by little I began to doubt whether there exists in
nature that entity which is called space; therefore, it followed that one could doubt absolute
motion; certainly Aristotle had said that place is nothing but the surface of the environment, and
Descartes, following him, had defined motion (i.e. change of place) by the change of location.
From which it seemed to follow that that which in real motion is also absolute does not consist in
that which is purely mathematical, such as is the change of location or of position, but in moving
power itself; if this were nil, it was known that real and absolute motion itself would have been

This interesting passage, which recalls the authority of Aristotle and Descartes32, shows
the development of Leibniz's ideas on space and motion with regard to power, or force,
and anticipates some themes of the famous controversy with Samuel Clarke. In the
quotation above, however, it is not clear how absolute motion can subsist with relative
space; in my opinion this is connected with the meaning of the word "absolute". From
a discussion of the impact laws in the Essay de dynamique, it emerges that a necessary
feature of absolute quantities is to be independent with respect to direction, or, as we

29 Louis Couturat, ed.; Opuscules et fragments indits de Leibniz, Paris 1903, pp. 590-593.
Information on Leibniz in Rome is in K. Mller-G. Kronen, op. cit., pp. 95-98.
30 Leibniz's manuscripts, Niederschsische Landesbibliothek, Hannover, LH 35 IX 1, f. 1-63;
the Phoranomus is in f. 1-54; a draft and a clear copy of the memorandum are in f. 55-56 and
57-58 respectively; f. 59-63 are fragments on planetary motion.
31 C. I. Gerhardt: Zu Leibniz's Dynamik, in: Archiv fr Geschichte der Philosophie, I, 1888,
pp. 566-581; p. 580.
32 Aristotle: Physica, IV, 1-5; Descartes: Principia, 11-24 and foils.

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26 Domenico Bertoloni Meli

would say, to be scalars33. The reason for this,

case of two bodies moving with opposite ve
vectorial velocity, which he calls "quantit d
velocities are very great and the impact has d
measure the "activity" a body possesses, which
we have to consider "velocity without direct
this feature has to be taken into consideratio
situation of absolute motion with relative sp
absolute, that is, a quantity measured by mv2,
that which is absolute in motion is not quant
velocity. In this sense an absolute motion is n
dimensional space. Bertrand Russell has calle
"wrong", because it is impossible to have absol
and because motion is either absolute or relati
take into consideration this meaning of the t
important feature in his dynamics even apart
At the beginning of the memorandum on the Copernican system Leibniz claims to
have already proved relativity of motion; this classical argument, which is an essential
point in his attempt, had already been used with the same intent by Descartes in the
Principia philosophize:
"Having already proved the equipollence of all hypotheses with geometrical demonstrations, in
the motion of whatsoever number of whichever bodies which move merely by means of corporeal
impressions; it follows that not even an Angel could discern in Mathematical rigor, which, among
several bodies of this kind rests or rather is the centre of the motion of the others"35.

The "equipollence of hypotheses" is a general relativity principle which applies to

rectilinear as well as to curvilinear motions, according to Leibniz36. In the passage
above he remains within a geometrical or, as we would say, kinematical level; in this
context, in which force is not mentioned, relativity of motion is indeed quite obvious.
From these quotations it emerges that Leibniz has a twofold concept of motion: from
the point of view of dynamics motion is intrinsic to one body, is absolute and cannot be
known from phenomena; from the point of view of geometry, or of kinematics, motion
is relative, that is, it is a change of position with respect to other bodies, and has the
status of a relation37, that is, it is a purely ideal entity.
But if even an angel could not tell which body moves and which rests, as Leibniz says
in the preceding quotation, what is the meaning of these terms ? His answer is that the

33 C. I. Gerhardt, ed.: Leibnizens mathematische Schriften, Halle, 1849-1863, 7 vols,

(abbreviated GM); vol. IV, pp. 215-231, especially p. 217 and 228.
34 Bertrand Russell: A critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibniz, Cambridge, 1900, pp.
86-87. On the vast literature on Leibniz's concept of space, see L. Sklar: Space, Time, and Space-
time, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1974, ch. Ill, where further bibliography is provided.
35 Descartes, op. cit., 11/24 and sq., especially 28 and 29. Couturat, op. cit., p. 590.
36 GM II, pp. 184-185, Leibniz to Huygens, 12/22 VI 1694.
37 On the vast literature on this classical topic see the recent H. R. Bernstein: Leibniz and
Huygens and the 'Relativity* of Motion, in: Studia Leibnitiana (abbreviated SL), Sonderheft 13,
1984, p. 85-102. A more philosophical discussion is in H . Stein: Some Philosophical Prehistory of
General Relativity, in: Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Minneapolis 1977, VII,
pp. 1-49.

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Leibniz on the Censorship of the Copernican System 27

most intelligible hypothesis has to be chosen, and that the truth of a hypothesis is
nothing but its intelligibility. He illustrates this with a famous comparison:
"And just as a painter can show the same building in different scnographie projections, but would
however be considered mistaken in choosing, if he preferred, that one which covers or darkens
parts of the building which it is at present of interest to know, so also the Astronomer would be
mistaken in explaining the theory of planets by means of the Tychonic hypothesis, not more than
if he gave over the Spherical doctrine and explained days and nights using the Copernican
hypothesis, and would burden a disciple with a difficulty which does not pertain to this matter"38.

It is interesting to notice how cautiously Leibniz introduces the theme of the

Copernican system. A similar remark can be made with respect to the following
reference to Mersenne and Fabri; in the post-scriptum to Landgrave Ernst he seemed to
approve of their views, whereas here he implies that their opinion could have been more
respectful towards the church:

"And thus it is not needful with Marin Mersenne and Honor Fabri, although they are learned and
religious men, to take refuge in the claim that tight censorship on those who assert that holy
Scripture spoke in a popular manner, is merely provisional (if it is allowed to say so), almost as if it
could at some time happen that once the motion of the earth were proved, then the Church would
declare that the words of holy Scripture should be understood not differently than the verse of the
poet: provehimur pomi, terraeque urbesque recedunt39. But it will be rightly said that holy
Scripture preserved truth and propriety of language, and did not adapt itself to people's opinion,
but rather carries the most important hidden treasures of universal knowledge; this is in fact more
worthy of the author God"4 .

Following Hooykaas' classification, Leibniz favours here an "allegorical" interpreta-

tion of Scripture: according to this interpretation, if we understand Scripture correctly,
we shall find in it not only the truth concerning matters of faith, but also of any other
kind, and in particular of natural philosophy. Far from being in competition,
"allegorical" and*"literalistic" interpretations were complementary at the time of
Leibniz and Galilei41. It is also interesting to point out that in this quotation Leibniz
suggests that the motion of the earth cannot be proved in principle. After a reference to
Dechales which closely corresponds to that quoted in the preceding section, he again
points out that the truth of a hypothesis is merely a matter of simplicity:
"And being allowed to prefer the simplest Hypothesis, it will be also allowed by the same
reasoning that this is taught as the truth. So the censor's authority will also be preserved, and there
will be no subsequent need for retraction, whatever novelties are finally discovered in the sky or
on the earth; and nonetheless no violence will be done (with the excuse of censorship) to the
notable discoveries of our time" .

These are the moves of an equilibrist: on the one hand, he wants to make clear that the
anticopernican decree hinders the development of science; on the other hand, he is as
deferential as he can towards the Catholic Church and the censors themselves. The tone
of these quotations shows that this paper probably has to be seen in connection with
Leibniz's stay in Rome and with his contacts with "Cardinaux et Prlats" with whom

38 Couturat, op. cit., p. 591.

39 Virgil: Aeneis, III, 72.
40 Couturat, loc. cit.
41 Hooykaas, op. cit., pp. 31-33; H. W. Frei, op. cit., pp. 6-7.
42 Couturat, op. cit., p. 592.

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28 Domenico Bertoloni Meli

he discussed this topic, as he says in a letter to

Melchisedech Thvenot43.
He continues in his memorandum:

"Having understood this, then eventually we will

preserving the reverence to the Church, and free Ro
highest and most beautiful truths are oppressed b
written among the English and the Dutch (not to me
an argument is adopted by scholars who accept relig
such a great light of the age, so that they will ap
capacity to discover the notable truths, and others a
of Italy; no sensible person believes that this is the w
of the censorship is vested. And in truth, it cannot
on the world, and those who do not understand h

Although Leibniz continues with his deference towards the censors, in this passage,
which ends with a telling Lucretian image of contrast between light and darkness, he
appears more daring with respect to scientific issues. He goes on with a critique of the
"labyrinth of stations and rtrogradations", and at the end of the memorandum
proposes a theory of planetary motion based on magnetic attractions and on his law of
the circulatio harmonica, according to which a planet's velocity of circular
rotation around the sun is inversely proportional to its distance from the sun45.
It is interesting to compare the last quotation with a passage from a letter by Leibniz
to his colleague in Florence Antonio Magliabecchi, the librarian of the Grandduke of
"When I was in Rome I urged some notable men, also of some authority, to favour freedom in
philosophy concerning problems not at all dangerous, and that they allow to be removed, or
abolished through disuse, the ban ontheSystemaTerraemotae: and I showed that this was in
the interest of the Roman Church itself, lest they appear to the ignorant to be supporting
ignorance and error. And they did not completely refuse my suggestions, so that I hope, if several
people similar to Monforte arise, with brilliance and authority, the ancient liberty, whose
oppression greatly damages the lively minds of the Italians, could be regained"46.

The temptation to recall the expression "false accusation" from the previous quotation
is indeed irresistible. Leibniz had received from Magliabecchi a copy of Antonio
Monforte's De syderum intervallis et magnitudinis opusculumy published in Naples in
1699 together with a letter to Magliabecchi. Leibniz's remark on the oppression of
liberty contained in his letter, which was sent by Magliabecchi to Monforte, might be
interpreted not only as a reference to Italy in general, but also as a remark on Naples in
particular, where Monforte was a member of the Accademia degli Investiganti. Leibniz
spent a few days in Naples in 1689 and met, as far as we know, the historians and
lawyers Lorenzo Crasso, Niccolo Caputo and Giuseppe Valletta47. In Naples the

43 A I, 7, pp. 352-353, 24 VII/3 IX 1691.

44 Couturat, op. cit., p. 592.
45 Leibniz refers to the Tentamen de motuum coelestium causis, in: Acta Eruditorum
(abbreviated AE), II, 1689, pp. 82-96; also in GM VI, pp. 144-161.
46 In Clarorum germanorum ad Ant. Magliabechiumt Florentiae, 1746, tomus primus, p. 93,
20/30 X 1699.
47 K. Mller-G. Krnert, op. cit., p. 96.

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Leibniz on the Censorship of the Copernican System 29

conflict between the Inquisition and the new philosophy, especially Gassendi and
Descartes, was particularly strong; the most notable example are the proceedings
against the atomistic philosophy in 1688-9348.

3. Florence: talks with Viviani and the essay "Ad R.P.B."

In my opinion the essay and accompanying letter Ad R.P.B. , published by
Gerhardt49 together with the Tentamen de motuum coelestium causis, are the most
interesting piece in my survey, in that they contain some new points which give a
contribution to the reconstruction of the Italian cultural atmosphere and serve to
identify the addressee. The content of the essay and letter, and the fact that they are on
Italian paper50, indicate that they were probably written in Italy; a more accurate dating
will be given in the following.
The first novelty, right at the beginning, concerns the Jesuit astronomer Christ-
ophorus Clavius:
"So that already in the past Christophorus Clavius of the Society of Jesus, the famous
mathematician, having learnt when he was old of the new celestial discoveries of the Telescope,
and especially of the moons of Jupiter, declared that the received astronomy was at its end. In fact,
he saw the very great force of the Analogy, which the new discoveries of the Ring and Satellites of
Saturn rendered so manifest, that he could hardly resist it any longer"51.

Although at the beginning Clavius was quite sceptical about Galilei's discovery of the
Medicean planets, he soon accepted it and from the Collegio Romano made
observations which he communicated to Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino. The passage
referred to by Leibniz is in the last edition of In Sphaeram Ioannis de Sacro Bosco
Commentarius (Moguntiae 1611), published one year after Galilei's Sidereus nuncius
and one year before Clavius' death. This passage, which is also mentioned by Galilei in
his famous letter to Cristina di Lorena52, does not refer to the astronomical hypotheses:
Clavius never accepted the Copernican system, as is plain from another passage of the
last edition of the Commentarius itself53.
After the usual remark on Dechales, Leibniz shows himself to be aware of the
debates which took place especially in Italy on the trajectory of a falling body.
Referring to the Copernican system, which was at stake in these debates, Leibniz says:
"Today it is admitted by almost everybody that it is certainly not absurd in philosophy, as was
believed in the past. And Riccioli himself rejected all vulgar arguments against it, except one which
is taken from the motion of heavy or thrown bodies, but Gassendi, P. Stefano degli Angeli and
Giovanni Alfonso Borelli showed that this also had no value"3 .

48 M. H. Fisch: The Academy of the Investigators, in: Science , Medicine and History, ed. by
E. Ashworth-Underwood, Oxford, 1953, 2 vols.; vol. 1, pp. 521-63.
49 GM VI, pp. 145-147.
30 LH 35, XI, 14f. 10 and 14; the accompanying letter forms a marginal note to a draft of the
memorandum, on f. 13; a further draft, in which Leibniz mentions Kepler's three laws in
connection with his theory of planetary motion, is in f. 11 and 12.
51 GM VI, p. 145.
52 Galilei, op. cit., vol. 5, p. 328; 1615.
53 See Clavius, op. cit., pp. 75 and 301.
54 GM VI, p. 145.

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30 Domenico Bertoloni Meli

Pierre Gassendi's Epistolae tres. De motu imp

had been written at the beginning of the 40s (a
in Paris in 1642), several years before Giamb
(Bononiae 1651) and Astronomia reformata (B
give rise to famous controversies; P. Galluzzi
the situation following Galilei's condemnation
same arguments were summarized, that gav
protection granted by Leopoldo de' Medici gu
philosophical matters, provided great cau
controversy, between 1667 and 1669, closely
Florentine Accademia del Cimento. Although
rejected, there was by no means agreement bet
The tangled history of this controversy,
published sometimes under pseudonyms (Mic
tively), has been reconstructed by A. Koyr an
by P. Galluzzi; its prehistory dates to Aristot
century Galilei, Pierre Fermt, Ismael Boulli
Newton dealt with the problem56.
Whereas Gassendi made his experiments drop
ship and showing that they fell at the foot of
Asinelli tower in Bologna. According to him
dropped from a certain height would fall w
trajectory; this consequence, which appears r
rejection of Galileian composition of motion
motions cannot be combined in the same body
vulgar arguments against the Copernican sy
arguments in the long lists presented by the Ita
principle. Furthermore, Riccioli regularly remi
of the inquisition and the anticopernican decre
the systema terrae motae were merely a dev
Degli Angeli, in his series of considerations,
to accept composition of motions; in his opi
circular inertial velocity decreasing with the
followed in the descent was always along the pe
saw the motion of the body as if this were at

55 P. Galluzzi: Galileo contro Copernico, in: Annali d

II, 2, 1977, pp. 87-148; pp. 95-96.
56 An extensive bibliography is in Galluzzi, op. ci
the Problem of Fall from Kepler to Newton, in: Tran
(abbreviated TAPS), new series 45, 4, 1955, pp. 329-
Cambridge (Mass.) - London 1965, ch. 5. See also E.
Scholastic Reaction to Copernicanism in the Sevente
A more mathematical discussion is in J. Lohne: Ho
6-52: and The Mathematical Papers of Isaac Newton
vol. 6, p. 150.
57 Manfredi [Riccioli]: Argomento fisicomattematico contro il moto diurno della terra, Bologna,
1668; G. B. Riccioli: Apologia pro argumento physicomath ematico contra systema Copernicanum,
Venetiis, 1669.

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Leibniz on the Censorship of the Copernican System 31

inertial motion which was neither rectilinear nor uniform. If this were not the case, he
argued, the body would fall eastwards, because the circular inertial velocity at a given
distance from the earth is greater than that on its surface; as this deviation is not
observed, degli Angeli claims that to deny his theory means to give a weapon to Riccioli
to attack the Copernican system58.
In De vi percussionis (Bononiae 1667), Borelli saw the trajectory of the falling body as
the composition of a circular uniform inertial motion and a uniformly accelerated one;
thus, initially, he accepted circular inertia and claimed that the body dropped from the
top of a tower would fall along a curvilinear trajectory to the east of its foot. It is only in
his Risposta to degli Angeli that he corrected himself and stated that the trajectory is the
composition of a rectilinear uniform motion, that is, the tangential motion of the body
dropped from the top of the tower, and a uniformly accelerated one, due to gravity. In
his new opinion, there would still be an eastwards deviation, even if its magnitude
would be so small as to be practically unde tec table59.
After a reference to Mersenne and Fabri similar to that in the post-script to
Landgrave Ernst, Leibniz goes quite far in his art of diplomacy, and seems to justify
Galilei's condemnation:

"In the meantime censorship has been rightly applied to the audacity of those who seemed to
judge Holy Scripture less reverently, that is, as if it has not spoken accurately, with the pretext that
its aim is to teach the way to salvation, not philosophy. In fact it is more respectful and truer to
acknowledge that in the holy texts are also hidden all the recondite treasures of science, and that
absolutely correct things are said not less about astronomical matters than about all the others,
which can be stated without damage to the new [astronomical] system. In fact the holy authors
could not express the thoughts of their minds in a different way without absurdity, even if a new
true system were posed a thousand times*'60.

Again, Leibniz follows an allegorical interpretation of Scripture, which appears to him

more suitable for his plan than the interpretation known as "accomodation";
nevertheless, he argues, it is possible to defend both the statement that Scripture
contains the treasures of science and a new astronomical system. Here he is using the
tactics he had himself suggested at the end of the post-script to Landgrave Ernst.
In the following remark on relative motion Leibniz refers to force; this time,
contrary to what he had done in the pseudo-preface to the Phoranomus, he uses
dynamical arguments:
"In order to understand the question more precisely, it must be known that motion has to be
considered as concerning something relative, and that it is impossible to give phenomena from
which motion or rest can be absolutely determined; in fact motion consists in change of position
or place. And place itself implies something relative, also from the statements of Aristotle, who
defined it by the outer surface of the environment. Thus, it is possible to defend rigorously any
[astronomical] system, so that not even an angel could determine anything absolute with

58 See degli Angeli: Considerationi sopra la forza di alcune raggiarti fisicomattematich e . . .,

Venetia, 1667; Seconde considerationi . . ., Padova, 1668; Terze considerationi . . ., Venetia, 1668;
Quarte considerationi . . ., Padova, 1669. Concerning the cultural situation in Padova see M.
Soppelsa: Genesi del metodo galileiano e tramonto dell 'aristotelismo nella scuola di Padova,
Padova, 1974; par. II- 2 is on degli Angeli.
59 G. A. Borelli: Risposta alle considerationi fatte sopra alcuni luoghi del suo Libro della Forza
della Percossa . . ., Messina, 1668; D. Zerilli (Borelli): Confermatone d'una sentenza del Signor
Gio Alfonso Borelli di nuovo contraddetta dal M.R.P. Fra Stefano de l'Anveliy Napoli, 1668.
60 GM VI, p. 145.

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32 Domenico Bertoloni Meli

Metaphysical certainty, because this is itself a cond

occurs among phenomena in the same way, and it
extent a given body moves or is at rest, provided on
and this is so true that not even acting force is an i

According to Leibniz, the impact laws are the s

in motion, or, as we would say, from differe
"Such rules of motion must be set up that the relati
phenomena resulting from the collision provide no b
determinate absolute motion before the collison"62

This is true for curvilinear and rectilinear

Dynamica de potentia et legibus naturae
curvilinear motions are composed of uniform
of motion holds for rectilinear motions, it m
are but a composition of the former, and it is
phenomena63. This conception is deeply root
curvilinear motions are composed of rectiline
all phenomena is based on impacts or, better,
fluids, and there is no action at a distance.
The reader is probably puzzled by the state
indication of absolute motion. Does this not c
cheating here? I believe he is not: in the Dyn
that absolute living force is composed of res
tiva, agendi or propria, pertaining to the si
respect to the other), and directive, partial o
or progressiva, which pertain to the system a
is indeed not sufficient to obtain absolute mo
debate in the correspondence with Huygens in
as phenomena are concerned, is relative, but
After Huygens* answer that motion is relativ
"Since I have no other criterion, therefore, I believe
manner of speech, which I try to accomodate as fa
am not far from your opinion, and I have adapted m
to M. Viviani, and which seemed to me appropriate
Copernicus' hypothesis"67.

61 Ibid., p. 146.
62 G. W. Leibniz; Specimen dynamicum, in: AE
234-254 (with a second part), and in a critical edit
edition p. 42. Translation in Loemker fl9692l p. 44
63 Dynamica de potentia et legibus naturae corpo
dynamicum, GM VI, p. 253, p. 58 of the critical ed
64 Dynamica . . ., GM VI, p. 495; Specimen dynam
65 GM II, pp. 184-185, Leibniz to Huygens, 12/22 VI 1694; p. 192, Huygens to Leibniz, 24
VIII 1694.
66 Concerning the clause salva veritate see H. Ishiguro: Leibniz's Philosophy of Logic and
Language, London 1972, ch. II; M. Mugnai: Astrazione e realt. Saggio su Leibniz, Milano, 1976,
par. 4.3.
67 GM II, p. 199, Leibniz to Huygens, 4/14 IX 1694. Translation in Loemker [19692] p. 419.

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Leibniz on the Censorship of the Copernican System 33

I believe it extremely probable that the essay I am discussing in this section is the same
meant in this quotation: the reference to force is very unusual, and therefore very
indicative. Furthermore, in the letter to Thvenot quoted above, Leibniz says referring
to his meeting with Vincenso Viviani68:

"We discussed at great length together the question of whether there might be a means of making
the Roman Curia listen to reason on the matter of Copernicus. I believe that there ought to be, as
long as one undertook this business in the right way. I have had occasion to speak about this to
some learned Cardinals and Prelates. They told me that Alexander VIII, whilst still Ottoboni, had
judged the matter with moderation, and effectively was an enlightened man. Since the Abb
Berthet, formerly a Jesuit, was in Rome with the Cardinal de Bouillon, and Viviani had to go on
the orders of the Grandduke on matters concerning the Chiane or some river boundaries between
the two states, we found the occasion appropriate for sounding out their intentions. I even gave to
M. Viviani a short paper in which I indicated to what extent the Italian nation and the Roman
Curia were doing themselves a disservice in remaining obstinate on this matter, and how one
might proceed in this without compromising oneself. I do not know whether M. Viviani will have
had occasion during his stay in Rome to clarify himself"69.

As we shall shortly see, the indications contained in this letter are also satisfied by the
essay Ad R.P.B.
Viviani was Galilei's last disciple and made several attempts to have his master's
Dialogo removed from the Index; he met Leibniz in Florence, where Leibniz stayed
between the beginning of and 22 December 168970. From a letter written by Viviani on
his arrival in Rome, we know that he left Florence on 12 December early in the
morning71; therefore, provided my identification is correct, Leibniz's essay was written
between the beginning of and 11 December 1689.
Leibniz goes on to mention the classical experiments carried out on a moving ship,
which had been discussed at least since Nicole Oresme commentary to Aristotle's De
celo y the Livre du ciel et du monde, until Galilei and Huygens. But motion is relative
for the ship as well as for astronomical hypotheses; therefore, if we say that the
Copernican hypothesis is true, this merely means that it is very successful:
"That this is eventually recognized is extremely important for both piety and the sciences, which
[= sciences] some people suspect cannot exist with obedience to the faith, without harming one or
the other. The last Lateran Council rightly declared that these people must be opposed .

Here Leibniz refers to the results of the fifth Lateran Council (10 V 1512-16 III 1517),
in which Pietro Pomponazzi's principle of twofold truth with regard to the immortality
of the soul had been condemned during the VIIIth session. Pomponazzi thought that

M A I VII, pp. 352-353, 24 VIII/3 IX 1691.

69 Needless to say, Leibniz did not give up; a few years later he wrote to the young student at
the Collegio Romano Theobald Isensehe (from Hildesheim), trying to persuade him to undertake
the task of lifting the ban against the Copernican system. See A I, 10, pp. 435-437, 12/22 VI 1694.
This attempt was also unsuccessful; Isensehe did not reply. In the text of the letter Leibniz refers
to a Jesuit who taught at the College Clermont in Paris; probably he has in mind Claude Dechales,
not Ienace Pardies, as the footnote suggests (p. 436).
70 K. Mller-G. Krnert, op. cit., p. 99.
71 Biblioteca Nazionale di Firenze, Mss. Gai., Div. 256, F. 94, dated 20 XII 1689: "Con tutte le
nostre buone levate della mattina ... ci sono voluti otto giorni interi per giungere in Roma, che
segu iersera che poco prima delle 24 smontammo alla Trinit de Monti."
72 GM VI, p. 146; the word "scientiarum" has been erroneously transcribed by Gerhardt as

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34 Domenico Bertoloni Meli

the soul was mortal, but what is true in philo

versa73. Leibniz's remark on the meaning of
order to avoid an interpretation of his theory
pointing out that it is sufficient that the c
Scripture does not speak accurately, and that
As in the pseudo-preface to the Phoranomus
believed that freedom among the Catholics is o
not to oppose in vain the stream of the new ide
anticopernican decree has to be withdrawn:
"This also concerns the honour of Italy; for thu
outstanding minds could enjoy the light of the age a
which are now anticipated by others. And I do not t
in whom the power of censorship is vested is diffe

I shall come back to this passage in connection

after this exhortation, Leibniz concludes
discoveries of the causes of planetary motion, b
magnetism and the harmonic circulation.
My attempts to identify the addressee of th
two independent ways, which lead to the sa
argument in support of my identification.
In the essay Leibniz makes four references
document of this survey ("Christophorus Cl
Chales ex eadem Societate Jesu . . . Ricciolus
the last quotation his reference to Italy is bas
censors. In the accompanying letter "Ad R.P
"I beseech Your Reverence to communicate to me
expounded in the enclosed paper, whether the aut
against the absolute defence of the Copernican s
possibility that I may have occasion to publish som
perhaps Your Reverence obliges not only myself, b

All these remarks show that the essay was sen

with "B", who occupied a position of some im
with astronomical problems, possibly a cens
people Leibniz might have met in Italy, I hav
who meets the necessary requirements, name
fact, he also meets the optional ones: he was
1711), Jesuit, consultor of the Congregation o

73 Johannes Dominicus Mansi: Sacrorum Concilio

Parisiis, 1802, p. 842; for the links between Pompon
E. Cassirer, ed.: Leibniz: Hauptschriften zur Gru
vols.; vol. 2, p. 49.
74 GM VI, p. 147.
75 Ibid.
76 K. Mller-G. Krnert, op. cit., p. 97, say tha
Copernican system for the astronomer Francesco Bia
they refer. In 1689 Bianchini was not a priest: he t

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Leibniz on the Censorship of the Copernican System 35

Office, that is, a censor77. He was professor of mathematics at the Collegio Romano
between 1686 and 1707, thus at the time of Leibniz's stay in Rome, and professor of
moral theology between 1709 and 171 178.
In the correspondence with Giovanni Giusto Ciampini and Tommaso Fantoni there
is an indication of the fact that Leibniz met Baldigiani in Rome and that they discussed
physical issues79. A further indication of their relations is contained in a manuscript
conserved at the Niederschsische Landesbibliothek in Hanover, which starts with the
words: "Le R. P. Baldigiani a compris la force de ma demonstration"80. Leibinz's
demonstration concerns the law of conservation of force. So much for the first way of
my identification.
The other way is based on the fact that the essay and accompanying letter had been
given to Vincenzo Viviani in Florence "for people in Rome". But Viviani and
Baldigiani, both Florentine, were in contact: in a letter dated 18 July 1678 to Viviani,
Baldigiani expressed in an implicit way his views in favour of Galilei81. These were
explicitly confirmed in another letter dated 25 January 1693, which refers to "bad

"All Rome is in arms against the Mathematicians and the Physico-mathematicians. There have
been and there are Extraordinary Congregations of Cardinals of the Holy Office, and in front of
the Pope, and people talk of making general prohibitions of all authors of modern Physica
sciences, and they make very long lists, and among them at the beginning are put Galileo
Gassendi, Descartes etc., as very pernicious to the learned world and to the sincerity of

It is to this man that Viviani wrote a letter saying that it was desired that the censorship
of Galilei's Dialogo was abolished, adopting a solution similar to the one which had

77 A. Favaro: Miscellanea galileana inedita, Firenze, 1887, p. 152; R. G. Villoslada: Storia del
Collegio Romano dal suo inizio (1551) alla soppressione della Compagnia di Ges (1773), Roma,
1954, p. 238.
78 R. G. Villoslada, op. cit., p. 335. Information on the cultural situation in Rome (also
concerning Baldigiani, though in a marginal way) is in M. Gardair: Le "Giornale de' Letterati" de
Rome, Firenze, 1984.
79 A I, 6, p. 249, Leibniz to Ciampini, 14/24 IX 1690, and p. 414, 13/23 III 1691. A I, 8, p. 261,
Leibniz to Fantoni, 29 V 1692, and p. 355, Fantoni to Leibniz, I VIII 1692.
80 LH 37, IV, f. 81-2. The manuscript is on Italian paper.
81 Favaro, op. cit., pp. 143-4. W. E. K. Middleton has mistakenly taken this letter as indication
of how much freedom there was in Italy in the last quarter of the XVIIth century; see Science in
Rome, 1675-1700, in: The British Journal for the History of Science 8, 1975, pp. 138-54, esp. p.
154. At the end of the letter, however, Baldigiani writes: "I do not mind the delivery of the letters
by means of the Fathers of the Mission, provided they content themselves with giving them
personally to me and not in the presence of others, otherwise our superiors could greatly
exaggerate and distort the matter [prendere ombre gagliarde]. If you do not want to go
through the Fathers of the Mission, you can address the outside envelope [fare una
sopraccarta] to the abb Niccolo Baldigiani, who is my brother. Please do not communicate
this paper of mine to anybody but Magalotti, whose opinion I would be very pleased to know for
the time being, as well as yours, since I shall always consider you as my master. Furthermore, as
this matter is so precious to me and to you, please have this paper delivered to me inclosing it in
the first letter with which you will favour me".
82 Ibid., p. 156; P. Redondi: Galileo eretico, Torino, 1983, pp. 400-401; M. Torrini: Dopo
Galileo, Firenze, 1979, p. 28; see also J. J. Renaldo: Bacon's empiricism, Boyle's science and the
Jesuit response in Italy, in: Journal of History of Ideas 37, 1976, pp. 689-695.

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36 Domenico Bertoloni Meli

been adopted for Copernicus' De revolutioni

few passages. This letter is on the retro of a
of the ban on the Copernican system that
before83; therefore, it can be approximately
return to Florence after his diplomatic missio
met Leibniz. We move now to the text of V
"In order to bring to a successful conclusion such a
that a person both authoritative and of credit, lear
and apply himself in an effective and persuasive
considered the only one in the learned world to pos
with the exclusion of any other who would aspire
reflect on this matter and to take this incumbence .

The general tone of the whole letter and espec

other", strongly suggest that Leibniz's essa
consultation with Viviani, was indeed for A
In 1690, after a few years of silence, the
Baldigiani is resumed following Viviani's jour
an indication that they met in Rome, in the
says that he did not know if Viviani had the c
probably did not get any reply from Rome.

4. Digression: the interaction between sci

Tentamen de motuum coelestium causi
"To please a prince, to refute a rival philo
theologician he would take any pains86. This
in his classic work, not without some ex
psychological insight. In this section I am m
In the Acta eruditorum of February 1689, a
there appeared the Tentamen de motuum coe
Vienna shortly before, in which he had tried t
fluid vortex. In Leibniz's Mathematische
Tentamen of the Acta, or published version,
version, or "Zweite Bearbeitung"87, as Gerh
reviewer in an acrimonious piece suggested
inverted88, Gerhardt was right: the manuscri
set of notes which refer to the text as it ap

83 Favaro, op. cit., pp. 152-155.

84 Ibid., pp. 153-154.
85 Ibid., p. 152.
86 Russell, op. cit., p. 1.
87 GM VI, pp. 161-187.
88 Franz Giesel, in: Zeitschrift fr Mathematik
2-14; pp. 7-8.
89 LH 35, IX, 2, f. 54-55 and 77-78 (complete set
18 written by a secretary and revised by Leibniz)

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Leibniz on the Censorship of the Copernican System 37

explicitly mentioned. Therefore, it was written after February 1689. Leibniz worked on
planetary motion in particular until 1690; when he took up the subject again, more than
fifteen years later, his theory had features which are not present in the Zweite
Bearbeitung90. Thus, this was written between 1689 and 1690. Indeed, in these years
Leibniz expressed views which are very similar to those of the Zweite Bearbeitung:
these are in De causa gravitatisi and especially in a draft of his last letter to the
theologian and philosopher Antoine Arnauld92. It is difficult to date the text more
precisely, because it may have been written in successive stages: in the manuscript of
the published version of the Tentamen^y Leibniz had already added some notes which
closely correspond to those of the Zweite Bearbeitung. Furthermore, the kind of paper
on which a fair copy of the notes to point 18 to 30 is written (these notes form the
revised version), seems to date from later than June 1690, that is, after Leibniz's return
to Hanover94.
Although Leibniz's variants to paragraphs 12, 18, 19 and 27 are of some interest,
historians have concentrated their attention on the introduction, which states a new
theory of gravity: in the published version Leibniz says that there is only one vortex
which makes the planets rotate and which generates gravity; in the revised version he
adopts, together with the old vortex, a new fluid which is emitted from a centre and
propagates according to the inverse square rule, on the example of light, and is
responsible for gravity.
The aim of being more explicit about the origin of gravity certainly was one of the
reasons for writing a revised version, together with that of being more explicit in his
calculations, even at the risk of being fairly obvious, as in some passages in paragraphs
18 and 19. In my opinion, a third reason Leibniz had for writing a revised version is
linked to censorship of the Copernican system; it will be noted that the Zweite
Bearbeitung was written during the Italian journey or soon afterwards. The only
reference to Copernicus present in the published version, which is right at the
beginning, is crossed out in the revised one; the same thing happens to a reference to
Epicurus, a few lines below95. But the epistemological implications of the essay have
also been modified. In the Acta, for example, Leibniz says, referring to Kepler:
"In fact the first reference to the true cause of gravity, and to that law of nature from which
gravity depends, is due to him"96.

And in the Zweite Bearbeitung:

90 For example, Leibniz corrected a mistake by a factor 2 in the term which represents cen-
trifugal conatus.
91 GM VI, pp. 193-203; originally in AE V 1690, pp. 228-239.
92 Leibniz: Discourse de mtaphysique et correspondence avec Arnauld, ed. by G. Le Roy,
Paris, 1957, pp. 202-203, 23 III 1690; also in C. I. Gerhardt, (ed.): Die Philosophischen Schriften
von G. W. Leibniz, Berlin, 1875-1890, 7 vols.: vol. 2, p. 138.
93 LH 35, IX, 2, f. 56-59 r. See especially the marginal notes in f. 56 r.
94 LH 35, IX, 2, f. 60-61 ; also f. 73-76 seem to have been used by Leibniz after his return to
Hanover (Watermarks 1288 and 2456 respectively in the catalogue at the Niederlndische
Landesbibliothek) .
95 GM VI, pp. 147, 149, 162-163.
96 GM VI, p. 148; AE II 1689, p. 83.

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38 Domenico Bertoloni Meli

"In fact the first reference to the physical use of t

depends, or at least can be described in a wond

This shift from "true cause" to "physical u

emphasis) is very puzzling. In yet anothe
written in 1690, De causis motuum coelestium
"Eventually after many pains I can well exclaim
true causes of planetary motions, whose true p

This quotation can be explained by saying t

excitement, and thus not very careful in his
explain the shift between the two preceding
Leibniz changed his views on gravity betwee
led him to be more cautious. Another possi
gravity, as well as Kepler's, which is based
Copernican: to state that the sun attracts th
which rotates around it, and that the earth
The following variant reading of the text poses a similar problem, in that the
passage below from the published version is expunged from the revised one:
"... the entire ether, together with the planets, is driven by the motion of the sun around its
centre . . ."".

Finally, the passage below can be found only in the revised version:
"What follows is not based on hypotheses but is deduced from phenomena by the laws of
motion; whether or not there is indeed an attraction of the planets by the sun, it is sufficient for
us to be able to infer the approach and recession, that is, the increase or decrease of distance,
which would occur if they were attracted by the prescribed law. And whether they do indeed
circulate about the sun, or do not circulate, it is sufficient that they change position relative to
the sun as if they were moved by a harmonic circulation"100.

A. Koyr, E. J. Aitn and I. B. Cohen101 quote this passage making a comparison

with Newton, especially with the famous "hypotheses non fingo", which
appeared more than twenty years later in the general scholium concluding the second
edition of the Principia mathematica (1713). Koyr defines this passage as "hyper-
positivistic", and says that it leaves Newton's own statements far behind. Elsewhere
he points out that this approach was not unique in the XVIth and XVIIth century:
Petrus Ramus, for example, offered his chair at the Collge Royal to whomever could
make an astronomical theory without hypotheses; Kepler wrote in the introduction to
the Astronomia nova that he intended to teach astronomy through physical causes and
not fictitious hypotheses; also Cohen, referring to Leibniz's passage, points out that

97 GM VI, p. 162.
98 LH35, X, 1, f. lv.
99 GM VI, p. 149; AE II 1689, p. 83.
100 GM VI, p. 166.
101 A. Koyr, op. cit., p. 136; E. J. Aiton: The Vortex Theory of planetary Motiony London-
New York, 1972, p. 132 (from which the translation is taken) and p. 147, n. 23; I. B. Cohen:
The Newtonian Revolution, Cambridge, 1980, p. 323, n. 10.

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Leibniz on the Censorship of the Copernican System 39

John Wallis, for example, pretended to explain gravity without having recourse to
In the introduction to the revised version of the Tentameny just before the passage
quoted above, Leibniz claims that the inverse square rule has been found first a priori;
in his vocabulary this means that it is not contradictory, or equivalently, that it is
"possible". Successively, the same rule has also been found a posteriori, through
mathematical calculations based on astronomical data103. He repeats the same ideas in
point 20, at the end of the calculation which leads to the inverse square rule. These
remarks on the a priori-a posteriori method are of some importance in order to
understand the last quotation, but in my opinion the key issue is the meaning of the
word "hypothesis". Did Leibniz mean a physical hypothesis, such as the existence of
vortices which account for planetary motion, as Newton meant in his general
scholium? Certainly not: according to Leibniz, the existence of vortices is not a
hypothesis, but a corollary to some laws of nature, as he explains in points 1 and 2 of
the two versions of the Tentamen. As a matter of fact, these versions, and the whole of
Leibniz's theory of planetary motion, are based on the existence of fluids; this point is
never in question. But let us go back to Leibniz's quotation.
First, he considers solar attraction as a hypothesis, something that Newton would
never do; indeed, he may well have Newton in mind as a target here. This is
corroborated by the way in which he read the Principia mathematica (first edition),
which he certainly knew of when he wrote the Zweite Bearbeitung: he accepted that the
mathematical results described phenomena with great accuracy, but thought that the
physical explanations were either lacking or unsound. In point 27 of the revised
version, for example, Leibniz says that in order to explain the motion of planets, it is
equivalent to consider either a circular motion composed with a radial one, as he
himself had done; or to consider a rectilinear motion composed with gravitational
attraction, "ac in vacuo", whose existence he repeatedly rejected104: his reference to
Newton is fairly obvious here. According to this interpretation, Leibniz's use of the
word "hypothesis" in this context is in the tradition of the Stoa (300 b. C.) and of
mathematical astronomy, that is, that of saving phenomena by means of mathematical
devices. In other words, Leibniz considered solar attraction as a mathematical
hypothesis, a fiction, whereas the reality lay in the impulsions of certain fluids. The
important point is that whether solar attraction exists or not, planets change their
position with respect to the sun because of those fluids as if attraction existed: this is
exactly the reverse of Newton's "hypotheses non fingo".
Another interpretation, as we have already seen, is connected with the Copernican-
ism of Leibniz's theories of gravity: this interpretation is more convincing for the
second part of the quotation, where Leibniz mentions the motion of the planets with
respect to the sun, and obviously means that the content of his essay does not depend
on the assumption that one out of the Ptolemaic, Copernican and Tychonic hypotheses
is true. Probably, he did not have Newton in mind here, but rather the anticopernican
decree, Andreas Osiander's preface to Copernicus' De revolutionibus and Cardinal

102 A. Koyr: La rvolution astronomique, Paris, 1961, p. 381, n. 12; p. 394, n. 1. I. B. Cohen,
op. cit., p. 323, n. 10.
103 GM VI, pp. 166 and 181. Leibniz's concepts of "a priori" and "a posteriori" are studied in
M. Gueroult: Dynamique et mtaphysique leibniziennes, Paris, 1937 (reprint 1967), ch. 3, 4 and 5.
104 GM VI, p. 184.

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40 Domenico Bertoloni Meli

Roberto Bellarmino; paradoxically, instead

hypothesis, Leibniz claimed that his results
hypotheses. It is quite puzzling that he wrot
having already published it in the Acta Erud
Bearbeitung is the essay mentioned in the lett
had in mind a second publication, in order to
to the Catholic Church?

5. The main works. Conclusion

The Specimen dynamicum is rightly considered one of the most important essays
written by Leibniz. It is composed of two parts: the first was published in the Acta
Eruditorum in 1695; the second part, written with the intention of publication,
appeared for the first time in the Mathematische Schriften edited by C. I. Gerhardt in
the last century105.
The relevant passages on the Copernican system are in the second part, and are
introduced by a reference to relativity of motion; Leibniz claims that once we have
understood that motion is relative, the violent controversies on the astronomical
systems which have been carried with great energy even by theologians disappear. He
also claims that although force is something absolute, motion belongs to the class of
"respective" phenomena; truth, however, is found not so much in phenomena as in
their causes106. We have already seen in section 2 that in the realm of phenomena, with
respect to relative motion, the "truth" of a hypotheses is equal to its "intelligibility".
A few lines below, after a famous passage on relative motion which refers to
Newton, whom he calls "a certain great mathematician"107, Leibniz refers to Pierre
Gassendi's Epistolae tres. De motu impresso a motore translato:
"The motion common to a system of bodies does not change their actions among
themselves, because the relative velocity with which they approach each other and so the force
of collision with which they approach each other are not changed. There follow from this the
outstanding experiments which Gassendi reported in his Epistolae de motu impresso a motore
translato; he did this to answer those who thought they could infer that the earth is at rest from the
motion of projectiles"108.

After the usual remarks on the experiments carried out on a ship in motion, such as
those by Gassendi in the waters of Marseille, Leibniz goes on with an interesting

"This must be noted for those who, not having rightly understood the statements of the
Copernicans, believe that bodies projected from the earth into the air are caught up by the air
which is turning with the earth, and so follow the motion of the earth, and likewise fall back to
earth as if this were at rest. This view is rightly to be judged inadequate, since the most learned
men who use the Copernican hypothesis think rather that whatever is on the surface of the earth
moves with the earth, and, if it is shot by a bow or a catapult, it carries with it the impetus
impressed on it by the rotation of the earth, together with the impetus impressed by its projection.
Hence, since its twofold motion is in part common with the earth, in part peculiar to its

105 See note 62.

106 GM VI, p. 248; p. 44 of the critical edition,
107 Ibid., p. 58: Newton was mentioned explicitly in a first draft of the text.
108 GM VI, p. 253; p. 60 of the critical edition. Translation in Loemker [19692], p. 450.

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Leibniz on the Censorship of the Copernican System 41

projection, it is not surprising that this common motion changes nothing. Meanwhile it must not
be concealed that if projectiles can be driven so far, or the ship be conceived as so large and moving
with so great a velocity that before the descent the earth or the ship will describe an arc perceptibly
different from a straight line, a difference would be perceived, because then the motion of the earth
or ship (certainly circular) would not remain common with the motion impressed on the missile
from the rotation of the ship or earth (certainly rectilinear)"109.

This passage is a defence of the arguments of the Copernicans, but at first sight it is by
no means clear against whom Leibniz is writing. The context of the paragraph from
which the quotation is taken indicates that he had some anticopernican in mind; as
Giovanbattista Riccioli was the last authoritative adversary of the Copernican system, I
have supposed that Leibniz was thinking of the Italian Jesuit, whom he had already
mentioned in the essay Ad R.P.B. In fact, Riccioli held the position exposed by Leibniz
in the Almagestum Novum110; according to him, in the supposedly "wrong" case of a
rotating earth, the air rotates with the earth carrying projectiles with it. In other words,
there is no inertia, and a body moves because it is moved by something else. At the end
of the quotation, Leibniz gives aft exact qualitative description of the phenomenon; this
probably is one of the last echoes of the polemic between Riccioli, degli Angeli and
Borelli which has been mentioned in section 3. It is quite interesting that, in order to
defend the Copernican system, Leibniz still referred to this polemic almost thirty years
after it had started.
In the Specimen dynamicum Leibniz remains within the boundaries of a purely
philosophical debate. In the Nouveaux essais sur V entendement humaint however, he
expresses his opinion on the influence of censorship. The Nouveaux essais were written
between the summers of 1 703 and 1 705 with the intention of publication, although they
appeared for the first time in print in Erich Raspe's edition in 1765. Referring to the
status of hypotheses, Leibniz states that those who condemned Galilei believed that the
statement that the. earth is at rest was not hypothetical, because it was based on reason
and Scripture. Reason, however, does not sustain it any longer, and the excellent
philosopher and theologian Honor Fabri has declared that the censorship is merely
"Yet they still go on suppressing the Copernican doctrine in Italy and Spain, and even in the
hereditary domains of the Emperor. This is greatly to the discredit of those nations: if only they
had a reasonable amount of freedom in philosophizing, their minds could be raised to the most
splendid discoveries"

This passage, together with several quotations from the previous sections, quite clearly
shows that Leibniz believed that censorship was an obstacle to the development of
science in Italy, Spain, and Austria, Bohemia and Hungary. In my opinion, this belief
explains much of the interest Leibniz had in the abolition of censorship against the
Copernican system; this interest can also be seen in connection with the plans for the
reunion of the churches, or, perhaps, with political plans. I prefer to see his attempts,
however, as one side of his more general activity of promoting the development of

109 GM VI, pp. 253-254; pp. 60-62 of the critical edition. This is a slightly modified translation
from that in Loemker [19692], p. 450.
110 G. B. Riccioli: Almagestum novum, Bologna, 1651, p. 474, argomento 13 and 14; see also
[1668], p. 8.
111 A VI 6, p. 515; Leibniz refers to H. Fabri (cf. Nr. 13). Translation by P. Remnant and T.
Bennett, London 1981, p. 515.

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42 Domenico Bertoloni Meli, Leibniz on the Censorship of the Copernican System

learning through various means, from personal contacts and encouragements the
founding of academies of science. This is one of the most typical of Leibniz's features,
which emerges from his innumerable projects throughout his life.
At this point there arises the obvious question as to whether Leibniz was justified in
thinking that censorship was a factual obstacle to the development of natural
philosophy. This is a more complex problem than collecting the present survey, and
requires a general study involving external (economical, social and theological) aspects,
as well as internal ones112. Since this wider study goes beyond the purposes of my
present paper, I prefer to leave the question open and to let the reader judge for himself
on the basis of the material I have collected. I hope that this might be a stimulus for
further investigations.

112 Relevant material to this topic is in M. H. Fisch (cf. n. 48); W. E. K. Middleton (cf. n. 81),
U. Baldini: L'attivit sentifica del primo Settecento, pp.* 465-545, and La scuola galileiana,
pp. 383-463, in: G. Micheli (a cura di): Storia d'Italia, in: Annali 3, Torino 1980.

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